Monday, October 15, 2007

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley (30 August 17971 February 1851) was an English romantic/gothic novelist and the author of Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. She was married to the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

On a visit home in 1812, she met Percy Bysshe Shelley, a political radical and free-thinker like her father, when Percy and his first wife Harriet visited Godwin's home and bookshop in London. By 1814, Percy Shelley was paying frequent visits to Godwin, and had struck up a friendship with his daughter, Mary. He sought in her the commonality of interests and the intellectual companionship that was missing in his marriage to Harriet. Initially, Percy's relationship with his wife was a happy one, as she made an effort to share in his studies and his intellectual pursuits. After their daughter Eliza Ianthe Shelley was born, however, Harriet gave up on their intellectual life completely, and did not pay as much attention to Percy's interests. Shelley was not pleased with this change; as the eldest son of a wealthy baronet with a mother and four younger sisters who adored him, he was accustomed to being the centre of attention for the women in his life. Consequently, Percy looked for that companionship and sympathy elsewhere, and found it in Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. As the daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, she was a revolutionary, a poet, an intellectual; all qualities that Percy felt were lacking in his wife.
Mary also had her reasons for being attracted to Percy. By that time, Percy had become a central figure in the Godwin household. William Godwin was dependent upon him not only for intellectual stimulation and emotional sympathy, but also for financial support as Percy was giving him massive amounts of money in order to alleviate his poverty. As a result, the Godwin family had developed an obsession with him; when Mary came home in 1814, her father and sisters spoke about little else apart from Percy, and her stepmother repeatedly wrote about how beautifully dressed but proud and unsociable Harriet was. So, when Mary met Percy two years after their brief encounter in 1812, it is little wonder that she would have been fascinated by and attracted to him. She also saw in him her ideal man: a young, passionate, deeply-committed poet who shared her love for her father.
Inevitably, Mary and Percy began a romantic and sexual relationship with each other. Mary had the habit of visiting St Pancras Churchyard where her mother was buried and reading Wollstonecraft's works, and Percy started accompanying her on these walks. Although Jane chaperoned them, they would have her walk some distance away from them, claiming that they wished to speak about philosophical matters. On 26 June, they officially declared their love for each other.
Unfortunately for them, William Godwin discovered their relationship, and forbade them from seeing each other again. His principled opposition to marriage and support of free love did not extend to his own daughter. Mary initially tried to do as her father wished, but, after Percy threatened to commit suicide if he could not be with her, she realised that she needed to pursue their relationship.
As a result, on 18 July 1814 at 5:00 in the morning, Mary and Percy eloped to France, with Mary's stepsister, Jane Clairmont, in tow. The young couple could not get married, however, because Percy was still legally wed to Harriet. This was Percy's second elopement, as he had also eloped with Harriet three years before. Upon their return several weeks later, the young couple were dismayed to find that Godwin refused to see them. He did not talk to Mary for three and a half years.
Mary consoled herself with her studies and with Percy, who set himself up in the roles of tutor and mentor as well as lover to the young woman. He drew up a programme of study in literature and languages that Mary followed diligently throughout their first few years together. Percy, too, was more than satisfied with his new partner during this period. He exulted that Mary was "one who can feel poetry and understand philosophy," and he enjoyed discussing literary and political issues with her.
Nonetheless, the couple's life together was not idyllic. Percy's father, Sir Timothy Shelley, disapproved of his son's abandonment of his pregnant wife and his relationship with Mary Shelley, and cut off his son's allowance as a result. By that time, Percy was deeply in debt as a result of his own profligate spending habits and the generous loans that he had made to William Godwin among other individuals. He spent several months on the run from his creditors and apart from Mary.
At the same time, Mary was beginning to realise that Percy's all-consuming focus on the intellectual and abstract meant that he tended to be narcissistic and self-centred, and that he was frequently unaware of or indifferent to the impact of his actions and demands on the people around him.
For instance, as part of his commitment to free love, Percy Shelley attempted to set up a radical community of friends who would share everything in common, including sexual partners. Around the central relationship between himself and Mary, he tried to set up secondary sexual relationships between himself and Claire Clairmont, and Mary and his best friend Thomas Hogg. Mary was distressed by this turn of events, as she had hoped that Percy would provide her with the stable family and sense of belonging that she had always desired. Moreover, although Mary was fond of Thomas Hogg as a friend and companion and reciprocated his attentions, she was not sexually attracted to him, and refused to sleep with him. Her pregnancy with her first child may have influenced her decision not to engage in a sexual relationship with another man as well. Her relationship with her step-sister Claire had also deteriorated by that point, and she wanted Percy to send her away from their household, but he refused to compromise his vision of how his community should be organised.
Even more devastating for Mary, however, were the events surrounding the birth and death of their first child, Clara, in February 1815. Born two months prematurely, Clara was a sickly child and was not expected to live. Nonetheless, Percy left Mary to nurse the child on her own and to entertain Thomas Hogg, while he went on walks and errands with Claire, and consulted the doctor for his own weak heart. When the child died early in March, Mary fell into a deep depression, yet Percy was again indifferent to her and spent more time with Claire than his primary partner.
Mary bore the couple's second child on 24 January 1816, a boy whom the couple called William after her father. This time, the pregnancy went smoothly, and William grew to become a favourite of the household, earning the nickname "Lovewill" for his beauty and his charm. His father took a greater interest in him than he had in Clara, although scholars like Anne K. Mellor have argued that it was largely a narcissistic one as Percy hoped to raise the child in his own image.

In May 1816, the couple and their son travelled to Lake Geneva in the company of Claire Clairmont. Their plan was to spend the summer near the famous and scandalous poet Lord Byron, whose recent affair with Claire had left her pregnant.
From a literary perspective, it was a productive and successful summer. Percy began work on "Hymn To Intellectual Beauty" and "Mont Blanc"; Mary, in the meantime, was inspired to write an enduring masterpiece of her own.
Forced to stay indoors one evening because of cold and rainy weather (see "Year Without a Summer"), the group of young writers and intellectuals, enthralled by the ghost stories from the book Fantasmagoriana, decided to have a ghost-story writing contest. Byron and Percy Shelley abandoned the project relatively soon, with Byron publishing his fragment at the end of Mazeppa. Byron's physician Dr. John Polidori's contribution remains uncertain; he identifies The Modern Oedipus as the work in question in the introduction to the novel, but, in her preface to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, Mary claims that he had a terrible idea about a skull-headed lady who was punished for peeping through keyholes. Mary herself had no inspiration for a story, which was a matter of great concern to her. However, Luigi Galvani's report of his 1783 investigations in animating frog legs with electricity were mentioned specifically by her as part of the reading list that summer in Switzerland. One night, perhaps attributable to Galvani's report, Mary had a waking dream; she recounted the episode in this way: "My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie…I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together—I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion…What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow."

Mary Shelly Return to England

Mounseer Nongtongpaw; or, The Discoveries of John Bull in a Trip to Paris, Juvenile Library, 1808
History of Six Weeks' Tour through a Part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland, with Letters Descriptive of a Sail round the Lake of Geneva, and of the Glaciers of Chamouni, with contributions by Percy Byshhe Shelley, Hookham, 1817
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (novel), three volumes, Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, 1818, revised edition, one volume, Colburn & Bentley, 1831, two volumes, Carey, Lea, & Blanchard, 1833
Mathilda (1819 novel), edited by Elizabeth Nitchie, University of North Carolina Press, 1959
Valperga; or The Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca (novel), three volumes, Whittaker, 1823.
Editor of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Hunt, 1824
The Last Man (novel), three volumes, Colburn, 1826, two volumes, Carey, Lea, & Blanchard, 1833
The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck (novel), three volumes, Colburn & Bentley, 1830, two volumes, Carey, Lea, & Blanchard, 1834
Lodore (novel), three volumes, Bentley, 1835, one volume, Wallis & Newell, 1835
Falkner (novel) three volumes, Saunders & Otley, 1837, one volume, Harper & Brothers, 1837
Editor of P. B. Shelley, The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, four volumes, Moxon, 1839
Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842, and 1843, two volumes, Moxon, 1844
The Choice: A Poem on Shelley's Death, edited by H. Buxton Forman, [London], 1876
The Mortal Immortal (short story), Mossant, Vallon, 1910
Proserpine and Midas: Two Unpublished Mythological Dramas, edited by A. Koszul, Milford, 1922
Contributor to Volumes 86-88 and 102-103 in The Cabinet of Biography, Lardner's Cabinet Cyclopedia, 1835-1839
Contributor of stories, reviews, and essays for London Magazine, Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Examiner, and Westminster Review
Contributor of stories to an annual gift book, The Keepsake, 1828-1838
Collections of Mary Shelley's works are housed in Lord Abinger's Shelley Collection on deposit at the Bodleian Library, the New York Public Library, the Huntington Library, the British Library, and in the John Murray Collection
Excluding many collections, such as Mary and Shelley's journals and letters
The Bride of Modern Italy (?)
The Dream (?)
Ferdinando Eboli (?)
The Invisible Girl (?)
Roger Dodsworth:The Reanimated Englishman (1826)
The Sisters of Albano (?)
The Transformation (?) Film

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